Brazil is a huge country about the size of the contiguous states of USA. Topographically Brazil has no major mountains, at least compared to its neighbours, since none of the main Andean cordilleras exist within its borders, however it still has some large peaks with the highest being in the northern Amazon (Pico da Neblina, 3014m) close to the Venezuelan border. This vast country has some correspondingly massive biomes, the major ones being the tropical rainforest of the Amazon, covering the whole of the north of the country and extending over its borders into the Andean countries. It is mainly forest but also has other large habitats incorporated within it. The Amazon, which is 6,800km (4,250 miles) is the longest river in the world and holds more freshwater than all the other rivers on earth, dominates. The mainly seasonal tropical Atlantic forest, is located along the lower east and south coast, widening south inland to 300 km and cloaking the coastal mountains and at least 50% of it biodiversity is unique. Inland from this, but dropping to the Amazon basin in the north and the Pantanal in the west is a huge plateau of eroded sandstone dominated by the cerrado, the South American grasslands or savannas, and this is the most biodiverse grassland on earth, with huge numbers of endemics. The Pantanal lies is in the west, and is mainly a vast wet grass and woodland system, but also incorporates many other surrounding biome elements the whole area is united by the waters of the world’s largest inland delta. The dry almost desert, wooded and often thorny caatinga is located in the north east and small areas of chaco are in the south west, which is another thorn forest, but one that receives heavy seasonal rains alternating with completely dry seasons. 

Rufous Casiornis, Brazil, Dec 2007 (Andy Marshall)



The capital of Brazil is Brasilia (population 2.5 million). The Brazilian language is Portuguese and the currency is the Real. Entry visas are usually for 3 months and can be renewed to run for a continuous 6 months of any 12 month period, after which you must leave. 

The 169 million people of Brazil are mainly concentrated in the coastal parts (70%) of Brazil's of the country, and so mostly within the area of the Atlantic forest biome, with three main cities and their surrounding area in the mid-south holding most of the population. These cities are in order of size: Sao Paulo (around 11 million central, 20 million for Greater Sao Paulo), Rio de Janeiro (6 million central, 11 million Greater Rio) and Belo Horizonte (2.4 million central and 5.3+ million in Greater Belo Horizonte). The country produces more than enough food for its population, but much is exported, most of the land is in the hands of the minority ultra-rich, with 5% of the population owning 80% of the land and shantytowns or favellas pervade the outskirts of all major towns. The country is well developed and most people can afford food as it is cheap and plentiful. Football and the Pope provide the religions with the country being strongly Catholic. The people are by and large friendly and well intentioned and like to give foreigners a warm welcome. Education levels are good, though attendance not always so, since many children have to work to help their families.


The road system is extensive, but often only of hard packed (but well maintained) dirt and the bus system is outstandingly comfortable, reliable, cheap and dependable. It is possible in many cases to run from even a minor town to another direct. Luxury sleeper buses are the norm between major towns and even these are not very expensive. The country is generally very safe, however as ever care should always be taken, especially if alone or in crowded areas such as cities. 

Places to stay


Campsites are usually plentiful, if very basic, always take something to cook with and something to carry and purify water in. There is a good network of hostels provided by the non-profit membership organisation Hostelling International which are cheap and have good facilities (usually including breakfast and free internet). Failing this there are numerous cheap hotels, some charging as little as 6 reals a night (about £2). The cheapest hotels are always next to the bus station, or even in it, though you may not be aware that there is even a hotel there because there is often no sign and it may be located above a pandaria or cafe. Ask someone in the bus station where the nearest hotel is, I guarantee there will be one within 2 minutes walk of the bus station. It will usually be full of out of town workers, who will not want to pay for taxis into town and who get picked up from the hotel by the work trucks in the mornings. The hotel will be clean but basic and the breakfast will probably be just of sweet coffee and bread and cheese, but you will be able to get breakfast early as the workmen need to leave early too. The names of these unassuming hotels reflect their workman like nature and will be called hotel Rondovaria (bus station hotel), or peoples’ hotel. Pousadas are like guesthouses or bed and breakfast places, often within part of a families home, these vary considerably in price but are usually not too expensive and the welcome is invariably warm and friendly. Higher market hotels can be easily found in every town. 

Long-tailed-tyrant, Brazil, Dec 2007 (Andy Marshall)


Sanitation One of the worst things about Brazil and South America generally (except much of Argentina) is the low or non-existent levels of sanitation. Anyone travelling to Rio by bus will have been nearly ill with the stench of raw sewage washing down to the sea, and to all those famous beaches that tourists flock to! There are no main drains so sewage is not collected and treated and the toilets are not designed to have toilet paper flushed down them, instead it goes in a disgusting little bucket at the side. 

Visiting protected sites

National parks and state parks do not require any special arrangements, though some state parks may not allow overnight stays by the public within them. There is usually an opening and closing time for the parks and a small admission fee. To go anywhere other than areas around campgrounds, you will probably need to hire a guide, as many of the longer trails are not well signed, if at all. IBAMA staff do not do guide work, but even so ask them because they will invariably know someone who does. 

Country specific links by category (some site will overlap categories) includes worldwide organisations with interests in Brazil. 

Ecotourism and volunteering 

Hostelling International Hostelling International is the brand name of more than 90 Youth Hostel Associations in over 80 countries, operating 4,000+ hostels. 

Iracambi Atlantic Rain Forest and Research Center Volunteer on any subject from natural history to medicinal plants, from GIS computer work to building and electrical work here in se Brazil’s Atlantic forest. See the comprehensive write-up on BSG (Neotropic-Brazil). 

Fauna Paraguay Covers the Alto Parana forest region of the Atlantic forest in Paraguay. Comprehesive site with many photographs and in depth info on all Classes. Paul also offers tailored wildlife tours throughout Paraguay, or you can volunteer on one of his not-for-profit projects. 

Volunteer Info Covers all categories of volunteering not just conservation. 

Global Crossroad Covers all categories of volunteering not just conservation.

Gap Year for Grown-ups Career break and volunteer work specialists in all categories. 

Gap Year Projects Conservation Volunteer, Worldwide Experience are the specialists in offering Gap Year Projects and Conservation Volunteer Placements worldwide. 

Serve Your World Travel with purpose, covers all types of volunteer work. 

Green Volunteers Perhaps the world’s biggest directory of conservation volunteer opportunities. The World Guide to Wildlife Work and Voluntary Work in Nature Conservation is a worldwide resource for international nature conservation. 

Biosphere Expeditions Conservation volunteer, wildlife volunteer, working holiday, environmental volunteer, conservation projects, conservation holiday. 

Coralcay Coral reef & rainforest expeditions. You and conservation in action! 

Conservation Volunteers World Conservation Programs give you the opportunity to volunteer overseas with a local conservation organisation. 

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Vacancies, jobs, employment; lists vacancies throughout the world in database of vacancies, internships and volunteer opportunities. 

Global Vision International Volunteer Abroad, Volunteering overseas, International Expeditions. Choose from over 80 volunteer abroad projects, and make a difference in some of the world's most critical conservation and community volunteering projects. Gap Years in volunteer conservation & ecotravel. 

Volunteer with Ashoka The premier organization for social innovation. World changing ideas are given a boost by this unique organisation. 

World Heritage Centre Volunteer for protecting the World Heritage sites. 

WorkingAbroad Projects Ecological and conservation volunteer opportunities, Working Abroad Projects; find a suitable volunteer programme in over 150 countries worldwide. 


United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO), Countries Travellers Guide Get the best and most up-to-date health travel information for all UN countries. 

US Library of Congress-Federal Research Division: Country Studies Covers 101 least well known countries (to US army). Contains more sections than CIA including history, geography and politics. 

CIA-World Factbook Has extensive coverage and statistics on all the countries of the world, including environmental threats, population, infrastructure and diseases, updated annually. 

Just the Flight Cheap online last minute flight bookings. 

Babel Fish Translation.

Travelling Birder Search tool linking to more than 7000 birding trip reports from around the world; travel forum.

Bird Forum 

Guided Birder 

Government and state bodies and laws 

New Brazilian Forestry Law 2005 

Brazilian Institute of Environmental and Renewable Resources (IBAMA) 

National Fund for Forest Development (Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento Florestal) 

Brazilian Forestry Service (Serviço Florestal Brasileiro) 

Peace Corps Brazil 

NGOs concerned with Brazil 

Brazilian NGOs 

Aves Brasil 

Iracambi Atlantic Rain Forest and Research Center Volunteer on any subject from natural history to medicinal plants, from GIS computer work to building and electrical work here in se Brazil’s Atlantic forest. See the comprehensive write-up on BSG (Neotropic-Brazil). 

Various articles on Rainforest Portal 

Institute for Ecological Research 

Tapir Preservation Fund 


World Land Trust 


Brazil Migratory Fish Convention 

Save Brazil 

Biomes, habitats, species and threats Ecosystem Brazil Has details of all Brazil’s main habitats. 

Forest Conversion Pattern In The Brazilian Amazon 

Amazon Deforestation And Brazil Land Problems 

Saving Brazil’s Savannas 

Ecosystem profile Atlantic forest 

About Brazil’s Caatinga 

Studies and papers Frogs (near Iracambi) 


A project by IEF studied by ITTO Tropical Forest Update 

Amphibians in Bromeliads 

New frog species 

Biological Diversity in the Atlantic Forest 

List of frog species for Piaui, NE Brazil, with excellent colour photos 

Forest and other natural products Medicinal plants popularly used in the Brazilian Tropical Atlantic Forest 

Deforestation, Coffee Cultivation, and Land Degradation 

About Brazil’s Bees 


If visiting a federal biological reserve run by IBAMA, you will have to first get a permit from their head office in the state capital, and these are not always granted. Staff usually have someone who speaks good English. Normal only researchers and invited guests are allowed to stay however when asked for the purpose of your visit it is enough to say to birdwatch or observe wildlife. The one extremely good thing about staying at an IBAMA biological reserve is that it is completely free, though you will have to take all your own food and alcohol with you, and it is always good to provide a little extra for the staff. 


Lears Macaw, Brazil, Andy Marshall Dec 2007




This is the easy part, food is plentiful, extremely varied, very cheap and usually extremely good. Staples of the Brazilian diet are not so inspiring and unless it is a self-service place you will invariably end up with rice and beans (black beans without tomato sauce) on your plate. Also popular is manioc, which is rather dull boiled but utterly delicious fried, when it is just like English chips. Meat is generally excellent and served with every meal. Again, at self-service places food is often sold by weight and even if you have only best beef it is the same price as a plate of rice of the same weight! Hotels often have self-service food and you can nearly always go back as many times as you want; Brazilians would consider you odd if you did not at least have seconds! A few words of caution, particularly if you are vegetarian; it can be difficult to avoid meat. The beans often have a strange string like ingredient and this is intestines. Bits of offal are often mixed with other things as well so be careful if like me you do not enjoy that type of thing. 
Beer, wine and other alcohol are cheap and plentiful. The beers, even the cheaper ones are quite good, but paying just a little more means exceptional good beer such as Oro Fino or Brahma can be had. The cheapest beers start at around 23p a litre but expect to pay far more in big cities such as Rio. Wine, at least red is also good if you pay for something other than the very cheapest. The really cheap wines in cartons are made from a mixture of dregs and then sweetened with a lot of sugar and barely taste like wine. 


Cone-billed Tanager, Emas NP, 
Brazil, Andy Marshall Dec 2007


Natural hazards

These are plentiful in Brazil and include ants, snakes, wasps, spiders, midges, bot flies (from Africa), intestinal worms, mosquitoes, malaria, water, vampire bats and many other things. The things you really need to be concerned with are malaria, which generally only occurs in the Amazon basin area, drinking water, generally ok from the taps even if it looks an odd colour, and ok inside forests well away from livestock and with no livestock upstream. If the whole hill is forested then it should be fine, but I repeat do not fill water bottles from areas with livestock (unless you have a special biological water filter) because this is how you get intestinal worms! Again with livestock, particularly cattle, this is where bot flies hang out. See those marble sized bumps all over the cows, if you let a fly, which looks a little like an ordinary house fly, bite you you could have a bump with a growing maggot inside it just like the cattle (I only got one, on my ankle). When the maggot has grown a bit it is possible to simply squeeze them out, though the wound should be treated with antiseptic and may take longer than usual to heal. Ants; always look down when you stop on a trail for any reason to make sure you are not stood in a column, you will soon know if you are! I had a nasty experience going for a pee one night outside my tent, in bare feet with no torch..….but anyway….., Snakes and spiders be aware of them and don’t bother them if you see them. Do not wander into long grass, or anywhere where you cannot see you feet without good boots and long trousers. When leaning or sitting or placing a hand anywhere on anything like trees and rocks always have a good look first. 

Author, BSG, photos Andy Marshall